<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> HAPPY OBJECTS <i>Sara Ahmed</i> <p> <p> I might say, "You make me happy." Or I might be moved by something, in such a way that when I think of happiness I think of that thing. Even if happiness is imagined as a feeling state, or a form of consciousness that evaluates a life situation achieved over time (Veenhoven 1984, 22-3), happiness also turns us toward objects. We turn toward objects at the very point of "making." To be made happy by this or that is to recognize that happiness starts from somewhere other than the subject who may use the word to describe a situation. <p> In this essay, I want to consider happiness as a happening, as involving affect (to be happy is to be affected by something), intentionality (to be happy is to be happy about something), and evaluation or judgment (to be happy about something makes something good). In particular, I will explore how happiness functions as a promise that directs us toward certain objects, which then circulate as social goods. Such objects accumulate positive affective value as they are passed around. My essay will offer an approach to thinking through affect as "sticky." Affect is what sticks, or what sustains or preserves the connection between ideas, values, and objects. <p> My essay contributes to what has been described by Patricia Clough (2007) as "the affective turn" by turning to the question of how we can theorize positive affect and the politics of good feeling. If it is true to say that much recent work in cultural studies has investigated bad feelings (shame, disgust, hate, fear, and so on), it might be useful to take good feeling as our starting point, without presuming that the distinction between good and bad will always hold. Of course, we cannot conflate happiness with good feeling. As Darrin McMahon (2006) has argued in his monumental history of happiness, the association of happiness with feeling is a modern one, in circulation from the eighteenth century onward. If happiness now evokes good feeling, then we can consider how feelings participate in making things good. To explore happiness using the language of affect is to consider the slide between affective and moral economies. In particular, the essay will explore how the family sustains its place as a "happy object" by identifying those who do not reproduce its line as the cause of unhappiness. I call such others "affect aliens": feminist kill-joys, unhappy queers, and melancholic migrants. <p> <p> Affect and Intentionality <p> I do not assume there is something called affect that stands apart or has autonomy, as if it corresponds to an object in the world, or even that there is something called affect that can be shared as an object of study. Instead, I would begin with the messiness of the experiential, the unfolding of bodies into worlds, and the drama of contingency, how we are touched by what we are near. It is useful to note that the etymology of "happiness" relates precisely to the question of contingency: it is from the Middle English "hap," suggesting chance. The original meaning of happiness preserves the potential of this "hap" to be good or bad. The hap of happiness then gets translated into something good. Happiness relates to the idea of being lucky, or favored by fortune, or being fortunate. Happiness remains about the contingency of what happens, but this "what" becomes something good. Even this meaning may now seem archaic: we may be more used to thinking of happiness as an effect of what you do, as a reward for hard work, rather than as being "simply" what happens to you. Indeed, Mihly Cskszentmihyi argues that "happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random choice, it is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside events, but, rather on how we interpret them. Happiness, in fact is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated and defended privately by each person" (1992, 2). Such a way of understanding happiness could be read as a defense against its contingency. I want to return to the original meaning of happiness as it refocuses our attention on the "worldly" question of happenings. <p> What is the relation between the "what" in "what happens" and the "what" that makes us happy? Empiricism provides us with a useful way of addressing this question, given its concern with "what's what." Take the work of the seventeenth-century empiricist philosopher John Locke. He argues that what is good is what is <i>"apt to cause or increase pleasure, or diminish pain in us"</i> (Locke 1997, 216). We judge something to be good or bad according to how it affects us, whether it gives us pleasure or pain. Locke uses the example of the man who loves grapes. He argues that "when a man declares in autumn, when he is eating them, or in spring, when there are none, that he loves grapes, it is no more, but that the taste of grapes delights him" (215). For Locke happiness (as the highest pleasure) is idiosyncratic: we are made happy by different things, we find different things delightful. <p> Happiness thus puts us into intimate contact with things. We can be happily affected in the present of an encounter; you are affected positively by something, even if that something does not present itself as an object of consciousness. To be affected in a good way can survive the coming and going of objects. Locke is after all describing the "seasonal" nature of enjoyment. When grapes are out of season, you might recall that you find them delightful, you might look forward to when they will be in season, which means that grapes would sustain their place as a happy object in the event of their absence. However, this does not mean that the objects one recalls as being happy always stay in place. As Locke argues, "Let an alteration of health or constitution destroy the delight of their taste, and he can be said no longer to <i>love</i> grapes" (216-17). Bodily transformations might also transform what is experienced as delightful. If our bodies change over time, then the world around us will create different impressions. <p> To be affected by something is to evaluate that thing. Evaluations are expressed in how bodies turn toward things. To give value to things is to shape what is near us. As Edmund Husserl describes in the second volume of <i>Ideas</i>, "Within the joy we are 'intentionally' (with feeling intensions) turned toward the joy-Object as such in the mode of affective 'interest'" (1989, 14). Some things you might say capture our attention. Objects we do things with generate what Husserl might call "our near sphere" or "core sphere" (2002, 149-50), as a sphere of practical action. This sphere is "a sphere of things that I can reach with my kinestheses and which I can experience in an optimal form through seeing, touching etc." (149). <p> Happiness might play a crucial role in shaping our near sphere, the world that takes shape around us, as a world of familiar things. Objects that give us pleasure take up residence within our bodily horizon. We come to have our likes, which might even establish <i>what we are like</i>. The bodily horizon could be redescribed as a horizon of likes. To have our likes means certain things are gathered around us. Of course, we do encounter new things. To be more and less open to new things is to be more or less open to the incorporation of things into our near sphere. Incorporation maybe conditional on liking what we encounter. Those things we do not like we move away from. Awayness might help establish the edges of our horizon; in rejecting the proximity of certain objects, we define the places that we know we do not wish to go, the things we do not wish to have, touch, taste, hear, feel, see, those things we do not want to keep within reach. <p> To be affected "in a good way" involves an orientation toward something as being good. Orientations register the proximity of objects, as well as shape what is proximate to the body. Happiness can thus be described as <i>intentional</i> in the phenomenological sense (directed toward objects), as well as being <i>affective</i> (contact with objects). To bring these arguments together we might say that happiness is an orientation toward the objects we come into contact with. We move toward and away from objects through how we are affected by them. After all, note the doubling of positive affect in Locke's example: we <i>love</i> the grapes if they taste <i>delightful</i>. To say we love what tastes delightful is not to say that delight causes our love, but that the experience of delight involves a loving orientation toward the object, just as the experience of love registers what is delightful. <p> To describe happiness as intentional does not mean there is always any simple correspondence between objects and feelings. I suspect that Robin Barrow is right to argue that happiness does not "have an object" the way that other emotions do (1980, 89). Let's stay with Locke's example of the man who loves grapes. Grapes acquire meaning for us, as something we can consume, grapes can be tasted and "have" a taste, even though we cannot know whether my grape taste is the same as yours. The pleasure evoked by the grapes is the pleasure of eating the grapes. But pleasures are not only directed toward objects that can be tasted, that come into a sensuous proximity with the flesh of the body, as a meeting of flesh. We can just recall pleasure to experience pleasure, even if these pleasures do not involve exactly the same sensation, even if the impressions of memory are not quite as lively. Pleasure creates an object, even when the object of pleasure appears before us. <p> We are moved by things. And in being moved, we make things. An object can be affective by virtue of its own location (the object might be <i>here</i>, which is <i>where</i> I experience this or that affect) and the timing of its appearance (the object might be <i>now</i>, which is <i>when</i> I experience this or that affect). To experience an object as being affective or sensational is to be directed not only toward an object, but to "whatever" is around that object, which includes what is behind the object, the conditions of its arrival. What is around an object can become happy: for instance, if you receive something delightful in a certain place, then the place itself is invested with happiness, as being "what" good feeling is directed toward. Or if you are given something by somebody whom you love, then the object itself acquires more affective value: just seeing something can make you think of another who gave you that something. If something is close to a happy object then it can become happy by association. <p> Happiness can generate objects through proximity. Happiness is not then simply about objects, or directed toward objects that are given to consciousness. We have probably all experienced what I would call "unattributed happiness"; you feel happy, not quite knowing why, and the feeling can be catchy, as a kind of brimming over that exceeds what you encounter. It is not that the feeling floats freely; in feeling happy, you direct the feeling to what is close by, smiling for instance, at a person who passes you by. The feeling can also lift or elevate a proximate object, making it happy, which is not to say that the feeling will survive an encounter with anything. It has always interested me that when we become conscious of feeling happy (when the feeling becomes an object of thought), happiness can often recede or become anxious. Happiness can arrive in a moment and be lost by virtue of its recognition. Happiness as a feeling appears very precarious, easily displaced not only by other feelings, but even by happiness itself, by the how of its arrival. <p> I would suggest that happiness involves a specific kind of intentionality, which I would describe as "end orientated." It is not just that we can be happy <i>about</i> something, as a feeling in the present, but some things become happy <i>for us</i>, if we imagine they will bring happiness <i>to us</i>. Happiness is often described as "what" we aim for, as an endpoint, or even an end in itself. Classically, happiness has been considered as an end rather than as a means. In <i>Nicomachean Ethics</i>, Aristotle describes happiness as the Chief Good, as "that which all things aim at" (1998, 1). Happiness is what we "choose always for its own sake" (8). Anthony Kenny describes how, for Aristotle, happiness "is not just an end, but a perfect end" (1993, 16). The perfect end is the end of all ends, the good that is good always for its own sake. <p> We don't have to agree with the argument that happiness is the perfect end to understand the implications of what it means for happiness to be thought in these terms. If happiness is the end of all ends, then <i>all other things become means to happiness</i>. As Aristotle describes, we choose other things "with a view to happiness, conceiving that through their instrumentality we shall be happy" (1998, 8). Aristotle is not talking here about material or physical objects, but is differentiating between different kinds of goods, between instrumental goods and independent goods. So honor or intellect we choose "with a view to happiness," as being instrumental to happiness, and the realization of the possibility of living a good or virtuous life. <p> If we think of instrumental goods as objects of happiness then important consequences follow. Things become good, or acquire their value as goods, insofar as they point toward happiness. Objects become "happiness means." Or we could say they become happiness pointers, as if to follow their point would be to find happiness. If objects provide a means for making us happy, then in directing ourselves toward this or that object we are aiming somewhere else: toward a happiness that is presumed to follow. The temporality of this following does matter. Happiness is what would come after. Given this, happiness is directed toward certain objects, which point toward that which is not yet present. When we follow things, we aim for happiness, as if happiness is what we get if we reach certain points. <p> <p> Sociable Happiness <p> Certain objects become imbued with positive affect as good objects. After all, objects not only embody good feeling, but are perceived as necessary for a good life. How does the good life get imagined through the proximity of objects? As we know, Locke evokes good feeling through the sensation of taste: "For as pleasant tastes depend not on the things themselves, but their agreeability to this or that palate, wherever there is great variety; so the greatest happiness consists in having those things which produce the greatest pleasure" (1997, 247). Locke locates difference in the mouth. We have different tastes insofar as we have different palates. <p> We can see here that the apparent chanciness of happiness-the hap of whatever happens-can be qualified. It is not that we just find happy objects anywhere. After all, taste is not simply a matter of chance (whether you or I might happen to like this or that), but is acquired over time. As Pierre Bourdieu showed in his monumental <i>Distinction</i>, taste is a very specific bodily orientation that is shaped by "what" is already decided to be good or a higher good. Taste or "manifested preferences" are "the practical affirmation of an inevitable difference" (1984, 56). When people say, "How can you like that?!" they make their judgment against another by refusing to like what another likes, by suggesting that the object in which another invests his or her happiness is unworthy. This affective differentiation is the basis of an essentially moral economy in which moral distinctions of worth are also social distinctions of value, as Beverley Skeggs (2004) has shown us. What "tastes good" can function as a marker of having "good taste." <p> We can note here the role that habit plays in arguments about happiness. Returning to Aristotle, his model of happiness relies on habituation, "the result of the repeated doing of acts which have a similar or common quality" (1998, vii). The good man will not only have the right habits, but his feelings will also be directed in the right way: "a man is not a good man at all who feels no pleasure in noble actions; just as no one would call that man just who does not feel pleasure in acting justly" (11). Good habits involve work: we have to work on the body such that the body's immediate reactions, how we are impressed upon by the world, will take us in the "right" direction. It is not only that we acquire good taste through habits; rather, the association between objects and affects is preserved through habit. When history becomes second nature (Bourdieu 1977), the affect becomes literal: we assume we experience delight because "it" is delightful. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>THE AFFECT THEORY READER</b> Copyright © 2010 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.<br> All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.